Choosing to die happilyLEE KYONG-HEE
The author heads the Innovation Lab of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The definition of “euthanasia” in Korean is a “comfortable and happy death.” It often refers to the “active form” of mercy killing through the administration of a lethal injection to lessen the pain of terminal patients. A “passive” form of euthanasia is the refusal of medicine and food. A “death with dignity” refers to choosing death by stopping unnecessary life-sustaining treatments.
In Korea, death with dignity is legal though conditions are strict. In February 2018, the life-sustaining treatment choice system was introduced. When medical staff decide that there is little chance of recovery and that death is imminent, the patient or family can choose to stop life-sustaining treatments. In the past four years, 1,210,953 people signed the Advance Directives on Life-sustaining Treatment Intention. There have been more than 200,000 cases of patients actually delaying or stopping life-sustaining treatments. Anyone over age 19 can complete and register the Advance Directives for free.
French actor Alain Delon, 86, has chosen euthanasia. He has been off the public attention since he had a stroke in 2019. As his health deteriorated, Delon resorted to euthanasia and asked for his son’s support. He is French, but he also holds citizenship in Switzerland, where euthanasia is legal. The type of euthanasia Delon has chosen is “assisted suicide.”
In the countries where euthanasia is legal — for instance, the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxemburg, Colombia and New Zealand — it is selectively allowed to the patients suffering from “unbearable pain with little potential for improvement medically.” Meanwhile, in Switzerland, one can choose assisted suicide with a help from a stranger who does not have “selfish motive,” such as inheritance, regardless of age or pain suffered. There are agencies connecting people who want euthanasia and hospitals. Kim Jin-kyung, author of “Old Europe,” pointed out that we need to think about whether euthanasia and assisted suicide are a “good death” or a failure of “good life.” In Switzerland, little investment has been made on pain relief or hospice care.
Following the news about Delon’s choice, many comments were posted by euthanasia supporters who want to choose to die happily. There were people worried about being discovered late after dying alone and inconveniencing their family and the society.
If one is pushed to death without a choice, it is hardly a “comfortable and happy” option. While we may not be able to avoid discussing euthanasia, we should first focus on happy life.